Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Summary

The poet, Pablo Neruda, asks each one of us to count till twelve and then not do anything whether it is talking or moving. He wants everyone to keep quiet and not move at all. In this moment of silence, he wants that we should not speak in any language and not move even our arms. It is in fact, at the number twelve when both the hands of the clock unite. So he wants us also to unite like the two hands of the clock.

The moment when everyone would be quiet would be an exciting and thrilling moment. There will be no rushing of everyday work, no sound of machines polluting the environment. It will be a moment when everyone would be together but in a strange kind of way.

The fishermen would also stop for sometime and not kill whales. Fishermen, in these lines, represent the tyrants or killers who do not think about others and carry on with their act of killing. They will also stop and introspect the selfish acts that they are doing. The salt-gatherers would also stop gathering salt and would get time for introspective which they never get in the rat-race of earning their livelihood. In this strange moment, everyone will stop doing the kind of work that they are doing and realise their mistakes, when they get time to introspect. The man gathering salt represents the lower section of society which is ready to descend to any level in order to earn a living and often end up; hurting themselves.

The poet is now referring to the creators of pollution – those who prepare green war, chemical wars – wars with gas and nuclear wars – wars with fire. He wants them also to stop and think over what harm they are doing. They should stop their brutal work and think positive. These wars would bring only destruction and there would be no survivors to enjoy their victory. They should clean their soul of negativity and join hands with other fellow beings. They would also leave the path of destruction for that one moment when everyone would remain quite.

The poet then moves on to say that he doesn’t want that keeping quiet should be taken as total inactivity because we will not be inactive. We will be inactive physically but we will be active mentally as we’ll be introspecting. Some people might associate it with death but it should not be done because we might appear to be inactive physically but we must ponder over our actions and try to evaluate and understand ourselves. We are always busy in achieving our goal and seek to move ahead with the fear of death, thinking how much of our dreams have been fulfilled. But we must stop all this and think over what we have gained in life.

We must try to learn something from the Earth. In the winter season, the Earth seems to be still and quiet but something goes on beneath its surface where seeds are lying hidden. They come up in spring and teach us to do our work quietly. Introspecting can be done easily while keeping quiet. It will also help us in regaining our lost vitality and energize us to do our work. The poet finally starts counting up to twelve and tells others to keep quiet.

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